Al Ain, UAE: Akram Afif has insisted he and his Qatar teammates are focusing on one game at a time, not only during the current AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 but all the way through until the country hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Qatar notched up a 2-0 win over Lebanon in Al Ain on Wednesday thanks to goals from Bassam Al Rawi and Almoez Ali as Qatar made a winning start to the continental championship for the first time in almost 40 years.
The victory ensures Felix Sanchez and his team joined Saudi Arabia at the top of the early standings in Group E and that the Qataris go into their next game against DPR Korea knowing victory will effectively seal their spot in the Round of 16.
But while Qatar are attempting to reach the knockout phase of the AFC Asian Cup for just the third time, the issue of the team’s ongoing development in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup lingers in the background.
The AFC Asian Cup forms part of Qatar’s long-term plan to prepare for the tournament in four years’ time, with the team also due to travel to Brazil in June to play in the Copa America. Afif, though, stresses he and his teammates are looking no further ahead than to the next game.
“For us there’s no pressure and people are not saying that Qatar will win the Asian Cup,” said the winger. “We are playing our style, our performance and everything is how we have learned."
“We will do our best in each game, even if we have in six months the Copa America in Brazil and there are a lot of other tournaments. We’ll do our best.
“We have the World Cup in 2022 and the World Cup is the highest competition in the world, but we’re not focusing on the Copa America or the World Cup, we’re focusing on DPR Korea.
“And when we finish against DPR Korea, we will go to the next one. We finish the next one, then we’ll go to the next, all the way until the World Cup.”
Qatar were given a stern test by the Lebanese in their tournament opener, with Sanchez’s side forced to remain patient in their quest for a win that came after the introduction of AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan just after the hour mark.
Hassan injected greater urgency into the team and Al Rawi scored soon after with a curling free-kick before Ali netted the decisive second when he pounced from close range.
“The first half, it wasn’t easy to create chances but we tried our best,” said Afif. “We have to be patient. Lebanon played a great game, they defended very well and tried to play on the counter-attack and using throw-ins and free-kicks."
“In the second half I think they got tired, because you can’t defend for 90 minutes and you can’t attack for 90 minutes. We tried our best and we scored the first goal.
"We tried to do that in the first half but we couldn’t, we had to wait until the second half.
"They had to play with four at the back and that gave us some space and we scored the second goal. We tried to keep a clean sheet and we took the three points and we did our best.”
The win was Qatar’s first in an AFC Asian Cup opener since 1980 and sets them up to take on a DPR Korea team that lost 4-0 to Saudi Arabia in their opener after playing much of the game with only 10 men.
“I think it’s important that we get these three points,” said Afif. “But now we have to forget the Lebanon game and focus on the DPR Korea game.
“It’s not that the Koreans lost 4-0 and that it will be an easy game. All the games will be hard for us, if we play the highest team or the lowest team in the ranking. All of them are the same and we will try to win the next game so it’s easier for us to qualify.”